The Pink Ladies-hued Schwinn locked up in the morning at the rack outside of Sip Coffee and Espresso Bar downtown. The front-loader cargo bike maneuvered up North Main Street by a dad with a duo of kiddos in the box. The trike bike of a downtown fashionista and her equally fashion-forward poodle.
I’ve seen you – you enigmatic pedalers – and like something out of a Craigslist Missed Connections section, I hope you read this and make your way to Main Plaza at 8 a.m. on Friday, May 2 for the 2014 Walk & Roll Rally.
This is the annual walk-friendly, bike-friendly event that salutes active transportation options and celebrates the biking, walking and transit culture growing step by step in the Alamo City. Put on in partnership with the City of San Antonio and Bexar County, the Walk & Roll Rally is the big hurrah of a year-round effort by our area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), the Alamo Area MPO (formerly the San Antonio-Bexar County MPO), to inform the public and its decision-makers about the benefits of a transportation system with multimodal options.
Options like these are fun, cool, easy and part of the solution – a big part – to our challenges of increasing traffic congestion, obesity and diabetes rates and looming air quality/environmental problems. Very importantly, pedestrian and bicycle networks that are accessible, direct and continuous have been shown to be economically beneficial to the neighborhoods around them and improve safety for everyone using the roadway.
Putting to use ideas from the MPO’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, a toolbox of traffic calming techniques and safety improvements, can go a long way towards achieving the more comfortable, complete streets on which people actually desire to walk or bike.
As Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales recently pointed out in an op-ed in the Rivard Report, “City planners know how to achieve walkability, but they need support from elected officials to change our entrenched habits of auto-dominant development.”
The Walk & Roll Rally is a great opportunity to engage that support in a quick and fun way. The 18th Rally since its inception, this event has been popping up downtown since before pop-ups were cool. And, at just 60 minutes long, it’ll energize you for the rest of whatever your TGIF has in store while kicking off a full calendar of National Bike Month walks and rides, workshops and events.
Pick up a T-shirt and breakfast refreshments (while they last). Enjoy a fashion show of bike styles accompanied by the tunes of D.J. Adolfo. Get your bike fixed up by Bike World, who will be on-site providing complimentary light mechanic services. The Rivard Report’s very own Robert Rivard will be emceeing the hour, with invited guests, like MPO Chairman Ray Lopez, the City of San Antonio’s Chief Sustainability Officer Douglas Melnick and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, joining in, too.
While Census data shows that walking and bicycling are still far outpaced by driving as the commute mode of choice in our area, some 325,000 residents of Bexar County do use a bike every month, according to the MPO’s Bicycle Travel Patterns Study (2010). This actually translates to almost one in five people – moms and dads, kids and grandkids, neighbors, employees, doctors – all using a bike to get to a destination, stay fit, or have a fun day out on the trail.
Speaking of, the trail system in San Antonio is one of San Antonio area’s most enviable assets, according to our peer cities in Texas. There are now 45 miles of paved shared-use paths within the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System. Another 41 miles are planned and funded, thanks to a one-eighth cent sales tax voters have approved three times since 2000.
The Mission Reach trail along the San Antonio River, which had its grand opening in October last year, extends the area’s trail system an additional 15 miles. This network of off-road facilities for walkers, bicyclists and other non-motorized modes has attracted so many users, that emphasizing trail etiquette has become a big priority of the City of San Antonio and the San Antonio River Authority. The City’s Parks & Recreation Department has begun a Trail Watch Volunteer program to help spread the word about courteous sharing of the trail.
San Antonio Walks!, an initiative developed by the Mayor’s Fitness Council, has quickly aggregated some 205 registered walking clubs and almost 3,000 walkers throughout San Antonio since it began a few years ago. Many of these groups use the trail system for weekly walks.
Walking and bicycling for recreation are significant ways for our community to become more active, and they are growing the time we commit to communing with nature and our neighbors. As the bike and pedestrian transportation planner at the MPO, though, my goal is for walking and biking to truly re-enter our lifestyles and become viable options for trips with functional purposes, too.
The 2009 National Household Travel Study found that half of all trips Americans make are as short as three miles, and more than one-quarter of trips are no more than one mile. Most of these short trips are driven, even though distances like these can easily be covered by bike or on foot. Our aim doesn’t need to be turning every car trip into a bike trip. It’s just that we reexamine our short trips and take seriously the potential to make more of them on foot or by bike, lightening up on how often we reach for our car keys.
The local, nonprofit San Antonio B-cycle helps foster this potential. The San Antonio system is the second largest of the B-cycle brand in the country, with more than 450 bike share trips made per day on average, according to local B-cycle Director of Operations Daniel Trevino. During Síclovía on March 30, B-cycle recorded 1,608 trips.
Most B-cycle trips are short: just under 1.5 miles, which coincides with the national data that finds the average bike trip length to be about two miles. San Antonio was the first to bring bike share to the State of Texas first, in 2011, with Ft. Worth, Houston, and Austin all following suit with their own systems. Oh, and calling all B-cycle pass holders: Did you realize you can use your B-cycle card in all those cities, too?
With the average bike trip a relatively short, easy ride, the relationship between quality transit and quality bike facilities is mutually nurturing. Transit providers get an expanded catchment area of potential customers when those customers can travel to transit stops on bike versus walking, while linking a bike trip with a transit trip allows bicyclists a climate-controlled option to extend the distance of their bike trip. For several years now, 100 percent of VIA buses, including new Primo buses, have been equipped with bike racks, and counts show that VIA carries about 1,000 bikes per day.
All day on Friday, May 2, VIA will be providing free bus rides to bicyclists (with their bike) in celebration of the Walk & Roll Rally.
I am so excited about how far we have come in the past few years toward improving walking and bicycling conditions in the Alamo Area – on-road bicycle facilities in the City of San Antonio have grown from 30 miles in 2010 to over 240 today – but it’s evident that there is still much to be done to keep our pedestrians and bicyclists safe and comfortable. The MPO’s upcoming Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Study will produce an active transportation master plan for the MPO study area, including Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe Counties and part of Kendall County, which we’ll be asking for your input on over the next few months.
Just Monday, the MPO’s Transportation Policy Board approved the call for projects to our partner agencies for our region’s Transportation Alternatives Program funding. This call will allow an estimated $11.5 million in bike and pedestrian infrastructural and/or Safe Routes to School program projects to break ground as early as 2015.
With much help from the City of San Antonio’s Office of Sustainability, the Walk & Roll Rally will get hundreds of downtown employees and residents energized with a pre-work walk or bike ride to the rally point this Friday. Will you be one of them?
For Walk & Roll Rally details and to keep track of all local walking and bicycling events in May, visit www.walkandrollSA.com.
*Featured/top image: The 2013 Walk and Roll Rally. Photo courtesy of Alamo Area MPO.